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Mistakes Happen: How to Recover and Move On

Updated on August 3, 2021
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FlourishAnyway is an industrial/organizational psychologist with applied experience in corporate human resources and consulting.

Oopsie! Wrong Turn?

Don't sweat your mistakes!  You'll make lots of them over your lifetime.  Besides, the bigger ones provide colorful stories to share with friends—and better lessons learned.
Don't sweat your mistakes! You'll make lots of them over your lifetime. Besides, the bigger ones provide colorful stories to share with friends—and better lessons learned. | Source

Unfortunate Ditch Girl

Uh-oh! As a visitor to my mother's house pulled out the driveway, a sharp turn of the steering wheel was all that stood between the unfortunate ditch girl and some great Instagram photos.

As a bonus for her trouble, she received a tow truck, an insurance claim, and some chastising from her father. It was a faux pas she won't soon forget.

Although the ditch girl—bless her heart—wasn't me, I'd be the first to tell you I've done worse (like wreck one of my cars into the other in my own driveway, no less). Hey, mistakes happen. They're just part of living.

I've found that the bigger the mistake

  1. the bigger the opportunity to learn from it and
  2. the more interesting the story you have to tell your friends.

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
You'll see not only yourself but also friends, family, and everyone you know in this intriguing book. Using social psychology, it explains how even smart people can be duped and dodge responsibility when things fall apart. Lots of specific examples: bosses, politicians, authors, doctors, therapists, alien abduction victims. I've given this to several people who were taking themselves too seriously!

Go Ahead, Make Mistakes: No Shame, No Blame

As we negotiate our way around the potholes of life, mistakes can be terrific teachers. Over a lifetime we'll make too many of them to count.

Blunders expose

  • our lapses in logic, focus, and self-confidence
  • poor planning and wrong assumptions
  • gaps in communication and
  • our failure to consider alternatives.

How to Deal like a Champ

When you make a misstep, here's how the deal with the consequences without letting the situation get the most of you.

Feel the frustration.

Things didn't go your way this time. Allow yourself to feel disappointed or upset, but don't dwell on it. Accept that even huge mistakes are going to happen to the best of us.

Few Things Are Unfixable

This was nothing a tow truck couldn't fix.
This was nothing a tow truck couldn't fix. | Source

Own your mistake.

Mistakes are an essential part of a learning process. Rather than blaming others, have the courage to accept accountability and own what happened. Correct your error, if you can.

Saying out loud that you messed up isn't going to be the end of the world. Admitting that you're not 100% right, 100% of the time builds others' respect for you.

When you let people know the dirty little secret that yes, you're human, at least they'll know that you don't cover up your errors. No one trusts a façade of perfection. Relationships are built on trust, so people may even feel more comfortable sharing their own whoopsie stories with you now that you've let your guard down.

Don't equate your mistake with your self-worth.

Understand that this mistake is one event, one data point, and that your track record consists of a lifetime of opportunities. This one event does not define you unless YOU let it.

Now that the mistake has happened, it's your choice in how you respond to it. Pick yourself up and move on. You can do this!

Analyze and learn.

Mistakes can be very instructional. Examine why the mistake occurred. Determine the causes and ramifications of what happened. Assess whether your situation truly was a mistake, given everything you now know.

Consider alternatives—without beating yourself up—and allow yourself to learn from your experience. This will help keep you from repeating blunders.

In analyzing your misstep, here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • What was the root cause of my mistake?
  • Did I make any erroneous assumptions?
  • Did I have the right goal? Was I trying to solve the right problem? Was my process well informed?
  • Could I have recognized bad assumptions earlier?
  • Given what I know now, what would I do differently?
  • How can I avoid getting into a similar situation?
  • What key takeaways or lessons learned does this mistake teach me?

Make amends, if needed.

If your mistake negatively impacted anyone else, consider what you need to do to make the situation right. Some of the most meaningful moments of my life have come from situations involving simple acknowledgments of errors.

Mistakes teach you to identify your own vulnerabilities. They can also strengthen communication and relationships.

Use blunders to your advantage. Grow from them. Learn from them. And don't shun risk-taking in the future because you've made a few slip-ups along the way. Mistakes are part of life's journey. Learn to see them as teachable moments!

Mistakes: Did You Know?

  • Women are more likely to mistake the gas pedal for the brake, although men are involved in more traffic accidents.1
  • Smart people are more likely to make misjudgments due to overconfidence (called a "bias blind spot"). Consider Bill Clinton and Maj. Gen. David Petraeus as key examples.2
  • Women tend to settle for modest investment returns. Men are more prone to active investment trading, owing to their overconfidence.3 (Both low returns and frequent trading can be costly mistakes if you're trying achieve long-term growth.)
  • Adults over age 55 are more likely to mistake an untrustworthy face as trustworthy and approachable, due to age-related changes in the part of the brain that forms "gut feelings." This makes them particularly prone to financial scams.
  • Employees who work the night shift in any occupation are 30% more prone to errors than their day-shift peers.4
  • Preventable medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States.5

Funny Mistakes In Our Favorite Movies

How to Fail Big ... and Keep Failing!

Surefire Ways to Fail
Time and Time Again
Have no desire to win.
Don't get enough rest.
Approach your goal through random hit and miss events, rather than a system—or better yet don't have a goal!
Get distracted!
Have more confidence than competence.
Don't have a back up plan.
Be as careless and reckless as you can.
Skip the instructions! Who needs them?
Ignore feedback and past experience.
Don't plan or prepare—just do it!
Tell yourself you'll fail.
Don't communicate with those who need to know.
Hide your errors.
Just give up if you don't succeed the first time.
Go in untrained and stressed out.
Deny accountability.

Elevator Overload in Paris: Trapped Between Floors

An elevator ride in France turned out to be a comedy of errors for my parents and I.  We learned the importance of reading signs and knowing your weight in kilograms.
An elevator ride in France turned out to be a comedy of errors for my parents and I. We learned the importance of reading signs and knowing your weight in kilograms. | Source

The Paris Elevator Overload Mistake

Some things you can only learn from experience. My parents and I discovered that the hard way while vacationing in France several years ago.

We had spent the morning walking throughout Paris, along with my husband and daughter. When we returned to our hotel, some of us were too weary to climb yet another set of stairs. Our hotel rooms were on the third floor, so my mom and I gladly hopped on the hotel elevator. (French elevators can be remarkably small by American standards.)

At the last minute, my dad decided he'd hitch a ride with us. We packed ourselves in, laughed at the tight quarters, and pressed the necessary buttons.

Mistake 1: People often remark that Americans lack proper perspective regarding their physical size. Supposedly, we just don't understand how large we are.

None of us saw the 225 kg weight limit sign until it was too late. It wouldn't have done any good at that point because we only knew our weight in pounds. With 225 kilograms being equivalent to about 496 pounds, we were well over limit.

Much to our surprise, the three of us ground the elevator gears to a screeching halt. I pressed the "open" button, and we saw what no elevator passenger wants to see: we were stuck halfway between the first and second floors. This only happens to others, right?

Mistake 2: My mother was packed tight against my dad and I, and she realized that the three of us were going nowhere fast. It was July and the elevator lights were hot. She freaked out and wanted her jacket off IMMEDIATELY. Her desperation made the elevator feel even hotter. She thought we all might run out of oxygen.

It was starting to feel like "The Three Stooges Take an Elevator Ride."

Mistake 3: I repeatedly pressed the emergency call button, and a hotel employee eventually answered. However, he spoke only French. Panic rose. I didn't know the French word for "HELP," and he sure didn't know any English. He hung up on me several times. This really was The Three Stooges.

Desperate, I started pressing all the buttons in rapid succession. Then I yelled and pounded on the inside of the elevator to get attention, all the while pressing all the buttons, too.

Luckily, my husband and daughter noticed that we had disappeared, and they heard my fits and commotion. When the hotel attendant was finally able to open the door, she was laughing, surprised that three people filled the elevator—and so completely at that. We climbed out to fresh air and safety.

The following day, as my family passed the front desk, we overheard the hotel attendant chuckle as she said to her coworker, "the Americans ... that's THEM."

Lifted To Safety

"I haven't been this close to her in years," my dad told people as he helped my mom climb out of the elevator.
"I haven't been this close to her in years," my dad told people as he helped my mom climb out of the elevator. | Source

Reader Poll

What's the biggest lesson to learn from the Paris elevator overload story?

See results

Did They Actually Say That on Air? R Rated News Bloopers

Tell us about your most memorable mistake in the Comments Section below.


1Hirsch, J. (2012, April 13). Women more likely to mistake gas pedal for brakes. Retrieved from
2Striepe, B. (n.d.). 10 Really Smart People Who Did Really Dumb Things. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from

3MacBride, E. (2011, August 2). How Men And Women Trip Up (Differently) As Investors. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from

4Costa, G. (2003). Shift work and occupational medicine: an overview. Occupational Medicine-oxford, 53(2), 83-8. doi:10.1093/occmed/kqg045

5Binder, L. (2013, September 23). Stunning News On Preventable Deaths In Hospitals. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from

Mistakes Happen: Do You Know What I Mean?

After this unfortunate incident, Miss Teen South Carolina received so much ribbing that she felt suicidal. We all have terrible moments, so be more empathic of both yourself and others. You are NOT defined by your worst moment.

Quotes on Mistakes and Errors

"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

- Napoleon Bonaparte, French military leader and emperor

"The greatest mistake you can make in life is continually fearing that you'll make one."

- Elbert Hubbard, American writer

"Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something."

- Morihei Ueshiba, Japanese martial artist

"Experience enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again."

- Franklin P. Jones, American humorist

"The biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy."

- Malcolm Forbes, American publishing magnate

"A lot of people mistake a short memory for a clear conscience."

- Doug Larson, American newspaper columnist

"He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery."

- Samuel Smiles, Scottish author and government reformer

"Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied."

- Pearl S. Buck, American writer and novelist

© 2014 Elaina Baker


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